Everyone’s favorite half-genie is back, tasked with reconnoitering an immense sunken city. Beyond the inclusion of mechanics that speed up transformations and the addition of monster cards that complement your play style, cinematics from Studio Trigger help Shantae shine.
Platform: Switch, also on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, iOS
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: WayForward Technologies
Release date: May 28th, 2020
Price: $29.99 via digital download and physical
Availability: Nintendo eShop
Across an eighteen-year legacy, Shantae, has battled a Giga Mermaid, an evil clone named Nega-Shantae, and arch nemesis Risky Boots countless times. But arguably her toughest trial might have followed the release of her inaugural game. Released when software sales for the Game Boy Color were waning, Shantae’s sales were sparse. But with her distinguishing resilience the protagonist persisted. In the ensuring years, she’d become developer WayForward Technology’s most prolific property thanks to a succession of agreeable sequels.
Originally released for Apple Arcade, the protagonist’s latest outing doesn’t upend formula. Shantae and the Seven Sirens revisits the open-world design of Risky’s Revenge and Pirate’s Curse, mixing run-and-jump action with the satisfaction of exploration. But the shimmying lead’s latest trek isn’t just a retread either, with WayForward making several design decisions that improve formula. Save for a few minor misbehaviors, it’s a ten-hour subterranean journey that confirms Shantae’s place in the platforming pantheon.
Curtain Call for the Half-Genies
As with previous efforts, Seven Sirens provides a succinct setup. After receiving an invitation for a weeklong festival on Paradise Island, Shantae and friends arrive, eager to soak up the tropical sun. The protagonist’s first task is meeting the other five half-genies who were invited, in preparation for a recital later that evening. But during their routine, the lights go unexpectedly dark. When they turn back on, Shantae is alone, and seemingly her fellow performers have been kidnapped. Naturally, it’s up to the protagonist to locate them, putting her on a path against the game’s eponymous interlopers.
Unlike the first three games, which provided backstory for the hair-whipping, shape-shifting lead, Seven Sirens’ ambition is expanding the universe. As such, players can expect returning characters like Rottytops and the Squid Baron alongside new ones like the other half-genies. The writing is consistently assuming and sporadically laugh inducing, especially if you have a familiarity with the franchise. Undoubtedly the best moments are the fleeting animated cutscenes from Studio Trigger (Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia), demonstrating that the property can support its own animated series. Competent voice acting adds to the storytelling. But sporadically, Seven Sirens skimps on the commentary, with entire sentences reduced to single world soundbites.
A Half-Genie’s Imposing Arsenal
With responsive controls and adept level design filled with obligatory secrets, investigating the sunken city feel gratifying. Like most Metroidvanias, Shantae begins with a limited ability set. But gradually, collecting gems left behind from defeated enemies powers up the speed and strategy of her trusty hair-whip. Luckily, you won’t just have to rely on your mane to cleave through opposition, and you can invest gems into homing rockets and fireballs which help extend your range. Pleasingly, Seven Sirens isn’t stingy with its dividends, diminishing a need for grinding.
Dungeon sub-levels make a reappearance, undoubtedly providing some of highpoints of your expedition. Here, you’ll gain access to Shantae’s trademark transformation, providing abilities like morphing into a newt to scamper up walls or into a tortoise capable of blasting through blocks. Much like Zelda, these newfound abilities are indispensable for forward progress with mastery often testing during boss battles. Pleasingly, there’s no dance sequence to wait though either. All of Shantae’s added abilities are instant, streamlining the flow of action.
Hips Don’t Lie (Boss Fighting)
Fortunately, there’s still some hip-shaking on display. But now, Shantae’s cavorting is reserved for less frequently used talents, like revealing hidden objects in a room or reviving withered flora. An addition perk system is found through monster card, which are randomly dropped by defeated foes. Collect a certain amount of these and you’ll have access to non-essential, but helpful abilities like faster crawling speeds and a magnetic-like attraction of currency. Although you can only equip up to three abilities at once, finding skills that mesh with your play style feels rewarding.
But there are a few elements that tarnish Seven Sirens’ moment-to-moment play. Although protracted load times break the momentum, a larger frustration can be seen when making vertical transitions between sections. If you don’t jump at precisely the right moment, gravity will push you back to the lower screen. Although pausing brings up a map screen that shows save points, otherwise, it doesn’t show the locations of other key objects like the dungeon. Like most Metroidvanias, there’s a large divergence between the challenge level offered by regular opponents and boss encounters.
Given the quality of games like Risky’s Revenge and Pirate’s Curse, it’s almost difficult to believe that Shantae’s pathway to platforming heiress was once in jeopardy. But Shantae and the Seven Sirens secures her reign, offering what WayForward does best: lighthearted 2D platforming through open-world environments. That said, the presence of Jake ‘Virt’ Kaufman is missed. Siren’s songs are competent, but don’t quite swing as passionately Virt’s tracks did.
Shantae and the Seven Sirens was played on
Switch with review code provided by the publisher